On January 1, 2001 I had the unique opportunity to join the Samuel Risley in Sarnia, Ontario for three days of icebreaking duties in the Detroit River and Western Lake Erie. 

We meet the Risley in the pre-dawn hours at Sarnia.To boatwatchers on shore the Risley may appear small as it is working with a freighter more than three times her length. Once on the deck the size of the vessel is impressive. Her large rear deck provides plenty of room for removing buoys and other Aids to Navigation work. Her Pilot house and accommodations rise up from the main deck into the early morning darkness illuminated by onboard lights.

Inside the Risley is warm and comfortable, accommodations are modern and spacious. Her friendly crew are a dedicated group of mariners that give the ship a relaxed but professional atmosphere.

Through a series of web pages we will take you along on a trip during winter ice operations.  Our trip begins at daybreak as we depart the Government Dock in Sarnia heading down the St. Clair River.


Often operating 24 hours a day, the Risley quickly accumulated these impressive statistics.

From Dec. 25 to Jan. 2:

  • Assisted 56 vessels, 42 of which were close escort.
  • Traveled 395 Nautical Miles through the narrow channels of the Detroit River.
  • Cut 404 miles of track.
  • Conducted one harbor breakout.
  • Participated in one Search and Rescue Case.
  • Steamed 1826 miles.
  • Rescued one bird frozen to a dock.

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